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God the only Object of Fear.
Jeremiah x. 7.
Who would not fear thee, O King of nations ? For to thee doth
THE Prophet aims, in the words of the text,
to inspire us with fear, and the best way to understand his meaning is to fix distinct ideas to the term. To fear God is an equivocal phrase in all languages; it is generally used in three senses in the holy scriptures.
1. Fear sometimes signifies terror; a disposition, that makes the soul consider itself only as sinful, and God chiefly as a Being who hateth and avengeth sin. There are various degrees of this fear, and it deserves either praise or blame, according to the different degree to which it is carried.
A man, whose heart is so void of the knowledge of the perfections of God, that he cannot rise above the little idols which worldlings adore; whose notions are so gross, that he cannot adhere to the purity of religion for purity's sake; whose taste is so vitiated that he hath no relish for the delightful union of a faithful soul with its God; such a man deserves to be praised, when he endeavoreth to restrain his sensuality by the idea of an avenging God. The apostles urged this motive with success,
knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuude men, 2 Cor. v. 11. Of some have compassion, saith St. Jude to the ministers of the gospel, making a difference ; and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, ver. 22, 23. Such a disposition, is, without doubt, very imperfect, and were a man to expect salvation in this way, he would be in imminent danger of feeling those miseries, of which he is afraid. No casuists, except such as have been educated in an infernal school, will venture to affirm, that to fear God in this sense, without loving him, is sufficient for salvation. Nevertheless this disposition is allowable in the beginning of a work of conversion, it is never altogether useless to a regenerate man, and it is of singular use to him in some violent temptations, with which the enemy of his salvation assaults him. When a tide of depravity threatens, in spite of yourselves, to carry you away, recollect some of the titles of God; the scripture calls him the mighty and the terrible God; the furious Lord ; a consuming fire, Neh. ix. 32. Nahum i. 2. Heb. xii. 29. Remember the terrors, that your own consciences felt, when they first awoke from the enchantment of sin, and when they beheld, for the first time, vice in its own colors. Meditate on that dreadful abode, in which criminals suffer everlasting pains for momentary pleasures: The fear of God, taken in this first sense, , is a laudable disposition.
But it ceaseth to be laudable, it becomes detestable, when it goeth so far as to deprive a sinner of a sight of all the gracious remedies, which God hath reserved for sinners, I heard thy voice, and I was afraid, and I hid myself, said the first man, after his fall : but it was because he was naked, Gen. iii. 10. it was because he had lost the glory of his primitive innocence, and must be obliged to
prostrate himself before his God, to seek from his infinite mercy the
remedies for his maladies, to pray to him, in whose image he had been first formed, Gen. i. 26. to renew him after the image of him that created him, Col. ij. 10. and to ask him for habits, that the shame of his nakedness might not appear, Rev. iii. 18. Despair should not dwell in the church, hell should be its only abode. It should be left to the devils to believe and tremble, James ïi. 19. Time is an economy of hope, and only those, whom the day of wrath overwhelmeth with horrible judgments, have reason cry
to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the wrath of the Lamb, Rev. vi. 16. Too great a degree of fear, then, in this first sense of fear, is a detestable disposition.
Fear is no less odious, when it giveth us tragical descriptions of the rights of God, and of his designs on his creatures: when it maketh a tyrant of him, whom the text calleth the king of nations ; of him, who is elsewhere described as having on his thigh the stately title of KING OF KINGS, Rev. xix. 16. of him, whose dominion is described as constituting the felicity of his subjects, The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, Psal. xcvii. l. Far be such descriptions of God from us! They represent the Deity as a merciless usurer, who requireth an account of talents, which we have not received; who requireth angelical knowledge of a human intelligence, or philosophical penetration of an uninstructed peasant. Far from us be those systems, which pretend to prove, that God will judge the heathens by the same laws by which he will judge the Jews, and that he will judge those, who lived under the law, as if they had lived under the gospel ! Away with that, fear of God, which is so injurious to his majesty, and so unworthy of that throne, which is founded
on equity! What encouragement could I have to endeavor to know what God hath been pleased to reveal to mankind, were I pre-possessed with an opinion, that, after I had implored, with all the powers of my soul, the help of God to guide me in seeking the truth; after I had laid aside the prejudices that disguise it; after I had suspended, as far as I could, the passions that deprave my understanding; even after I had determined to sacrifice my rest, my fortune, my dignity, my life, to follow it; I might fall into capital errors which would plunge me into everlasting woe? No, no, we have not so learned Christ, Eph. iv. 20. None but a refractory servant fears God in this manner. It is only the refractory servant, who, to exculpate himself for neglecting what was in his power, pretends to have thought that God would require more than was in his power : Lord, saith he, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed, Matt. xxv. 24. I knew ! And where didst thou learn this ? What infernal body of divinity hast thou studied? What demon was thy tutor? Ah! Thou art a wicked servant, ver. 26. and, at the same time, a slothful servant ; slothful, not to form the just and noble resolution of improving the talent I committed to thee; wicked, to invent such an odious reason, and to represent me in such dismal colors. Thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers, and then I should have received mine own with usury, ver. 27. Thou oughtest to have improved that ray of light, with which I had enlightened thee, and not to have forged an ideal God, who would require that with which he had not intrusted thee. Thou oughtest to have read the books, which my providence put into thy hands, and not to have imagined I would condemn thee for not having read those which were concealed from thee. Thou oughtest to have consulted those ministers, whom I had set in my church, and not to have feared I would condemn thee for not haying sitten in conference with angels and seraphims, with whom thou hadst no intercourse. Thou hadst but one talent : thou oughtest to have improved that one talent, and not to have neglected it lest I should require four of thee. Thou wicked servant ! Thou slothful servant! Take the talent from him. Give it unto him who hath ten talents, ver. 28.
These are the different ideas, which we ought to form, of that disposition of mind which is called fear in this first sense. To fear God in this sense is to have the soul filled with horror at the sight of his judgments.
2. To fear God is a phrase still more equivocal, and it is put for that disposition of mind, which inclines us to render him all the worship he requires, to submit to all the laws he imposeth, to conceive all the emotions of admiration, devotedness, and love, which the eminence of his perfections demand. This is the usual meaning of the phrase. By this Jonah described himself, even while he was acting contrary to it, I am an Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, chap. i. 9. In this sense the phrase is to be understood when we are told, the fear of the Lord prolongeth days, is a fountain of life, and preserveth from the snares of death, Prov. x. 27. and xiv. 27. And it is to be taken in the same sense where the fear of the Lord is said to be the beginning of wisdom, Psal. exi. 10. The fear of the Lord in all these passages includes all the duties of religion. The last quoted passage is quite mistaken, when the fear spoken of is taken for terror: and a conclusion is drawn from false premises when it is inferred from this passage,